… In other words, the data mining did exactly what it was meant to do, which is why it was written into the 2001 legislation commonly known as the Patriot Act, and why it has remained in subsequent reauthorizations of the law.
Where I diverge from [a] defense of the practice, however, is the assumption that the data mined would only be used as part of an effort to detect patterns that would indicate a terrorist threat. What may have seemed like paranoid delusions just a month ago now are a reality. Could the call data taken from Verizon customers (do we really believe that this collection is limited to Verizon customers?) be used by other governmental agencies to track the calls of conservative activists or journalists reporting on stories that aren’t in the interest of the Obama administration? These scenarios, after the IRS scandal and controversy surrounding wiretapping of AP and Fox News journalists, are unfortunately very real possibilities. How much confidence should Americans have that their call data is being handled only by super computers at the NSA, searching for patterns as part of a larger national security operation? What assurances can the White House and the executive branch give the American people who are already increasingly wary of the politicization, size and scope of the government’s power in the wake of the IRS scandal, that the data was and will continue to be solely used in the interest of national security?
While many liberals vociferously expressed their mistrust of the Bush administration’s commitment to civil liberties, Americans never saw under Bush the kind of abuses of personal information in a politicized campaign against real or imagined foes of the administration that have emerged in the last month about the Obama White House. The Bush White House was closely watched by an American media that was, at its core, incredibly hostile to the president and his party and eager to report on any misstep, even if these missteps later proved to be outright fabrications. In contrast, it is only with the leaks about surveillance on AP reporters that the American media has even stirred in response to the Obama White House’s missteps. Today’s story on the NSA data collection was broken first by a foreign newspaper, the U.K.’s Guardian, not an American publication. While the data collection itself is a defensible and necessary step to protect Americans’ safety, the Obama administration needs to prove to the American people that it can be trusted with the information it has gathered and continues to gather for the sake of national security.
The Obama administration has some problems. The question is, how big are they?
It’s too soon to tell, of course. But there are some aspects of these stories that suggest they’re going to make more-than-medium-sized trouble for Obama.
To start with, while the particulars might be complicated, both stories are easily understandable to people who aren’t politics and news junkies. Here are the nubs: (1) The State Department intentionally obscured the truth about the death of an American ambassador weeks before a presidential election. (2) The IRS intentionally audited people and groups who opposed the president. Those are the take-home, headline versions of the stories and they’re pretty clear-cut.
Second, there’s still reporting to be done on both stories. We don’t know how much is left to be unearthed, but we do know that we haven’t touched bottom yet. How high up in the government did knowledge about the IRS’s activity go? And then why wasn’t it stopped? At the State Department, emails claimed that the “building’s leadership” wanted changes made to the CIA’s talking points memo. What and who, exactly, does that mean?
Not only do we not know the answers to those questions, but also the answers will probably prompt further queries.
Third, both of these failures speak to the same underlying problem: incompetence married to hyper-politicization. President Obama likes to complain about how it’s always everyone else’s fault that he can’t get anything done. He’s always the bipartisan moderate pushing compromise. But eventually people might notice that he is, just as a matter of statistics, the most polarizing president ever—tied with George W. Bush’s 2004-2005 nadir in terms of how he has split the country in two. And after they realize this, they may look at the hyper-politicized manner in which he has conducted his administration and decide that it is not something for which they particularly care.
After all, polarization married to success is one thing. But when it’s paired with incompetence, it’s something else.
The prevailing view in the so-called mainstream media is that “Team Red” is made up of bad people. The Tea Party wasn’t just angry and boisterous, it was “racist.” The National Organization for Marriage isn’t just uncomfortable with a radical change to the institution of marriage; it’s “hateful” and “bigoted.” The Catholic Church doesn’t simply adhere to countercultural views on human sexuality, it’s waging a “war on women.”
That makes it easy to understand how, in Douthat’s words, the abusive IRS employees might have “thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.”
An unshakable sense of one’s own moral authority makes it easier to rationalize wrongful actions in the interest of preserving tenuous political and cultural authority. What, after all, is a purloined IRS document or a (nonactionable) slander in an editorial by comparison to the horrors of racism or antigay hatred? Of all forms of power, moral power may be the most seductive and corrupting.
While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.
Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government….
[T]he problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is … that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS….
As I wrote on Monday:
The fear of tyranny Obama cited isn’t an invention of the Koch brothers or the Tea Party, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and most of the founders. They worried that our “experiment in self-rule” would fail specifically because of over-reaching on the part of the government or a blind obedience to the vagaries of public opinion. Our Constitution was written by men who understood that the key principle of American democracy must be a system of checks and balances that was designed to frustrate people like Obama who want to shove their big ideas about re-engineering our society and government down the throats of the voters. They placed obstacles in the path of such leaders in the form of representative government institutions that are supposed to go slow and invariably give voice to those who are more interested in holding government accountable than in growing it. Supporting this instinct isn’t cynical, nor is it a function of special interests. It is democracy in its purest and most American form.
What I didn’t know on Monday was that the government headed by the president was about to provide us with an egregious example of exactly why Americans should distrust their government. There is a long and dishonorable tradition of using the IRS to target political opponents of the party in power. Such actions were cited in the articles of impeachment of Richard Nixon and it is well known that Franklin Roosevelt played the same game with impunity against those on his own enemy’s list.
But while Nixon and Roosevelt simply went after specific political foes, what we have seen under Obama is an effort to brand all those who question his philosophy as being somehow beyond the pale of decent society. Under those circumstances why wouldn’t government officials and administrators, whom reports now tell us today knew about these abuses as long ago as 2011 and which may go deeper than initially thought, think nothing of putting the screws to those who believe the president has exceeded his powers?
Far more destructive is this mystifying impulse to look away from the war Islamists have been waging on the West for a generation. While the “radicalization process” to which he refers is not uniform, there is a clear pattern here. The roots of the atrocity in Boston are in the beliefs of radical imams who have helped guide young Muslims to violence around the globe.
To point this out is not an indictment of all Muslims, the majority of whom in this country are loyal, hardworking and peaceful citizens. But the myths about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims that the media has helped foster—and which continue to be unconnected to any actual evidence of a wave of a prejudice or violence—has led to a situation where some think it better to ignore the evidence about the Tsarnaevs or to focus on peripheral details—such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s failed boxing career—than to address the real problem. The fear of Islamophobia is so great that it has spawned a different kind of backlash in which any mention of Islam in this context is wrongly treated as an indication of prejudice.
The contrast between the political exploitation of Newtown and the way in which the same media outlets have gone out of their way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions about Boston could not be greater. In one case, the media helped orchestrate a national discussion in which hyper-emotional rhetoric about the fallen drove a political agenda. In the other, they are seeking to ensure that no conclusions—even those that are self-evident—be drawn under any circumstances.
The Kermit Gosnell trial and the lack of media coverage (as well as mainstream media critics’ belated acknowledgment of the lack of coverage) has brought to light how deeply the media’s overwhelming sympathy for the pro-choice position affects abortion coverage. The same can be said of gun control, gay marriage and, to be blunt, many aspects of President Obama’s presidency. At the root of the issue is a deep cultural divide in which the mainstream media resides firmly on one side, viewing inhabitants on the opposite as backward natives.
There is no doubt there is a secular, urbanized, college-educated and socially liberal portion of the United States. Unfortunately for the rest of America, the media are almost entirely made up of such people, who by virtue of their employment and income status have limited contact with those on the other side of this cultural gap….
The notion that one can simply put biases aside (on religion, politics, abortion or anything else) is a bit silly if the biases aren’t recognized as such and everyone around you has the same views (more or less). In recent decades there has been a push for more racial, ethnic and gender diversity in newsrooms, but virtually no effort to incorporate geographic, cultural, political, social and religious diversity. That makes for newsrooms that are at the very least more likely to ignore or distort the views and lives of rural, religious, pro-life, non-college educated and conservative Americans. In age, beliefs, religion, educational level, income, military service and many other indices, journalists in major outlets are unrepresentative, enormously so, of the country at large.
“ The liberty of the press is the birth-right of Britons, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country. It has been the terror of all bad ministers; for their dark and dangerous designs, or their weakness, inability and duplicity, have thus been detected and shown to the public, generally in too strong and just colours for them long to bear up against the odium of mankind. Can we then be surpriz’d, that so various and infinite arts have been employed at one time entirely to set aside, at another to take off the force, and blunt the edge, of this most sacred weapon, given for the defence of truth and liberty? A wicked and corrupt administration must naturally dread this appeal to the world; and will be for keeping all the means of information equally from the prince, parliament and the people. Every method will then by try’d, and all arts put into practice to check the spirit of knowledge and inquiry. Even the courts of justice have in the most dangerous way, because under sanction of law, been drawn into the dark views of an arbitrary ministry, and to stifle in the birth all infant virtue. ”
John Wilkes, 1752
Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like.
In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression.
That more liberals aren’t calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today.
The candidates agree: This election is a choice between two futures. You get to say which path you would prefer in a little over a month.
Just kidding! The election is over, and Mitt Romney lost. He’s toast; his goose is cooked; put a fork in him he’s done; he’s yesterday’s news. Disagree? That’s too bad. The American media have made up their minds. And on this they are certain: Barack Obama is a lock for reelection. They may not be sure when Romney lost exactly—was it his trip to England, Israel, and Poland? Was it the Clint Eastwood speech at the RNC? Was it Romney’s response to the attacks on our embassies in Benghazi and Cairo? Was it his leaked remarks on government dependency? The exact date doesn’t matter. What matters is that the chorus has spoken. The politburo has decided. A consensus has been reached. Romney will lose, and the only question is by how much. The voters might as well stay at home.
The conceited arrogance with which our most sophisticated and well-schooled editors, writers, and journalists voice this conclusion makes it that much more annoying. Their eagerness to judge Romney a failure is not only premature but also erodes whatever credibility they had left. Indeed, the ridiculous manner in which the political press has covered the 2012 campaign suggests that “bias” is no longer a suitable description of the character of the media establishment. “Partisan toadies” may be a better one. “Obama’s army” is another….
Does anyone doubt that if it were Romney rather than Obama who led by three points, the creed recited daily on MSNBC would stress the inexact nature of polling and the overwhelming power of conservative millionaires and billionaires? Imagine for a moment that a Republican was president: What would appear on the front pages and at the top of the network news broadcasts? There would be stories on long-term unemployment, stagnant wages, brutalized net worth, and credit downgrades. There would be stories on last weekend’s brazen attack on our base in Afghanistan, which led to the deaths of two Marines and the loss of eight Harrier jets. The White House would be slammed for its changing and evasive explanation of the murder of a U.S. ambassador and his security officers.
[Gallup reports that 60% of Americans “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” The hysteria with which most media outlets have covered the presidential campaign, while ignoring anything, foreign or domestic, that might harm President Obama, is disgusting.]
Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the Republican party’s nomination for vice president was everything that could have been hoped for by the Romney campaign and more. It made the case against President Obama in devastating terms — using humor and memorable line after memorable line to drive home the main point that the president has been a miserable failure in office. The speech is likely to have lasting impact in this campaign.
Which perhaps explains the panicky reaction of the mainstream press and Ryan’s liberal critics. Almost from the moment Ryan finished his speech, apologists for the president (including the Washington Post) have come out swinging, quite plainly indignant that Ryan landed so many punches when the usual media filters couldn’t stop him.
And, so, not surprisingly, these same apologists have resorted to the usual kind of smear tactics — accusing Ryan of offering up misleading arguments and even “lies.”
These criticisms of Ryan’s speech are absurd. Everything Ryan said is factual and a fair reading of the record and prior events….[including Medicare cuts and closed manufacturing plants.]
Then there is the business of the U.S. credit downgrade and the Bowles-Simpson commission. In his speech, Ryan properly excoriated the president for his profligate spending and for his indifference to the nation’s debt crisis. During the president’s term, the national debt will rise by more than $5 trillion. Ryan pinned S&P’s decision to lower the credit rating for debt issued by the U.S. government on the president’s failure to lead on fiscal matters, and chastised him specifically for appointing the Bowles-Simpson commission and then doing nothing with the commission’s recommendations. Ryan’s critics say he is being hypocritical because Ryan himself also opposed the Bowles-Simpson recommendations.
But when Ryan opposed that plan (because it left in place Obamacare’s massive new entitlement spending), he proposed an alternative and passed it through the House of Representatives. What did President Obama do? Nothing. He appointed the commission to buy time during the 2010 campaign season, and then, in 2011, decided that leading on the deficit wasn’t in his political interest. So he proposed no plan of his own. And then when Ryan proposed his plan to actually head off a fiscal crisis, the president attacked it in the most partisan and demagogic terms possible. Is it any surprise, with this kind of behavior from the president, that the parties weren’t able to come to an amicable agreement? Any fair reading of the record shows that the president has abdicated his leadership responsibilities on fiscal matters. He richly deserves the blame for the downgrade.
Finally, Ryan’s critics cannot stomach the fact that Ryan refuses to play along with their caricatures of him as an uncaring Randian, obsessed with individualism and indifferent to the needs of the vulnerable. In his speech, Ryan specifically noted that a society should be measured by how well the strong protect the weak. That’s entirely consistent with the budget plan he favors. As usual, his critics want the world to equate more governmental programs and spending with improvement in the lives of the poor. And yet, after trillions in spending, poverty and dependence are on the rise under President Obama.
Under Romney and Ryan, there will be plenty of room for generous government spending on a safety net for those who are truly incapable of taking care of themselves. That’s as it should be. But what the poor really need is opportunity, for better-paying jobs and mobility up the wage scale. There is a mountain of evidence that what will help the poor more than anything else is a vibrant free-market economy. Moreover, the reason welfare reform was such a success in 1996 was not that it limited government spending (although it did do that) but that it improved the lives of millions of lower-income American families by emphasizing work over dependence. That’s a lesson that Ryan’s critics, the president included, still have not learned.
Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech was a tour de force, and a clear success. One measure of that success is the intensity and emptiness of the attacks coming his way. The irony is that these attacks — intended to damage Ryan by undermining his credibility — are more likely to be seen by the electorate for what they really are: desperate and dishonest tactics from those willing to say and do anything to hang on to power.
But perhaps the contrast of Tea Party staying power and the genuinely total and ignominious collapse of [Occupy Wall Street] can serve as a teachable moment for mainstream media editors and reporters who actually want to understand and fairly report the news, as opposed to manipulating it in the interest of a political agenda. (Readers take note: there are such.)
The lunge to dismiss the Tea Party as a racist and comical fringe while celebrating OWS as a genuine upwelling of American populism reflected serious errors about American history and culture. The simplistic conflation of populism with a left-progressive agenda is the kind of mistake college undergrads (and excitable professors) make when they’ve read too much Howard Zinn while imbibing too much caffeine. And the simplistic dismissal of right populism as racist and backward is equally flawed; Jacksonian America has its flaws but it is much more complex than its cultured despisers understand. These stereotyped views of American populism are caricatures and those who rely on them will repeatedly misunderstand the significance of events taking place before their eyes — just as they have done.
A few editors and reporters, and perhaps a higher proportion of their readers, will figure this out and start thinking more deeply about American history and politics.
But most probably won’t, and as a result the mainstream media will continue to lose market share and public confidence. More than the internet, what’s killing the MSM is bad ideas and superficial thinking. The group think mentality of the media herd rests on weak intellectual and historical foundations so that over and over the media take on a given event turns out to be fatally flawed. The public grows tired of this, and either tunes the news out altogether or turns to alternative media with alternative views.
Did you know there is a war on women?
Yes, it’s true. Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz have been waging it for years with their misogynist outbursts. There have been boycotts by people on the left who are outraged that these guys still have jobs. Oh, wait. Sorry, that never happened.
Boycotts are reserved for people on the right like Rush Limbaugh, who finally apologized Saturday for calling a 30-year-old Georgetown Law student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut” after she testified before congress about contraception….
But if Limbaugh’s actions demand a boycott—and they do—then what about the army of swine on the left?
During the 2008 election Ed Schultz said on his radio show that Sarah Palin set off a “bimbo alert.” He called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut.” (He later apologized.) He once even took to his blog to call yours truly a “bimbo” for the offense of quoting him accurately in a New York Post column.
Keith Olbermann has said that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp should have been aborted by her parents, apparently because he finds her having opinions offensive. He called Michelle Malkin a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick.” He found it newsworthy to discuss Carrie Prejean’s breasts on his MSNBC show. His solution for dealing with Hillary Clinton, who he thought should drop out of the presidential race, was to find “somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.” Olbermann now works for über-leftist and former Democratic vice president Al Gore at Current TV….
But the grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher—who also happens to be a favorite of liberals—who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. Maher has called Palin a “dumb twat” and dropped the C-word in describing the former Alaska governor. He called Palin and Congresswoman Bachmann “boobs” and “two bimbos.” He said of the former vice-presidential candidate, “She is not a mean girl. She is a crazy girl with mean ideas.” He recently made a joke about Rick Santorum’s wife using a vibrator. Imagine now the same joke during the 2008 primary with Michelle Obama’s name in it, and tell me that he would still have a job….
Liberals—you know, the people who say they “fight for women”—comprise Maher’s audience, and a parade of high-profile liberals make up his guest list. Yet have any of them confronted him? Nope. That was left to Ann Coulter, who actually called Maher a misogynist to his face, an opportunity that feminist icon Gloria Steinem failed to take when she appeared on his show in 2011.
[W]hen it comes to high-profile campaigns to hold these men accountable—such as that waged against Limbaugh—the real fury seems reserved only for conservatives, while the men on the left get a wink and a nod as long as they are carrying water for the liberal cause.
After all, if Limbaugh’s outburst is part of the “war on women,” then what is the routine misogyny of liberal media men?
It’s time for some equal-opportunity accountability. Without it, the fight against media misogyny will continue to be perceived as a proxy war for the Democratic Party, not a fight for fair treatment of women in the public square.
How does this year’s phone hacking scandal at the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World—owned, I hardly need add, by News Corp., the Journal’s parent company—compare with last year’s contretemps over the release of classified information by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and his partners at the New York Times, the Guardian and other newspapers?
At bottom, they’re largely the same story.
In both cases, secret information, initially obtained by illegal means, was disseminated publicly by news organizations that believed the value of the information superseded the letter of the law, as well as the personal interests of those whom it would most directly affect. In both cases, fundamental questions about the lengths to which a news organization should go in pursuit of a scoop have been raised. In both cases, a dreadful human toll has been exacted: The British parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, led to the false hope that their child might be alive because some of her voice mails were deleted after her abduction; Afghan citizens, fearful of Taliban reprisals after being exposed by WikiLeaks as U.S. informants.
Both, in short, are despicable instances of journalistic malpractice, for which some kind of price ought to be paid. So why is one a scandal, replete with arrests, resignations and parliamentary inquests, while the other is merely a controversy, with Mr. Assange’s name mooted in some quarters for a Nobel Peace Prize?